FootballPremier League

The honeymoon is over: The wheels are coming off at Leeds

January 19, 2021

SO much praise has been heaped on Leeds United this season it has become the subject of parody. While some of the acclaim has gone over the top, there’s no denying Marcelo Bielsa’s side have caught the imagination with some of their Premier League performances. Leeds are among the division’s most entertaining teams to watch.

And yet the Elland Road outfit have lost five of their last eight league games, also suffering a humiliating FA Cup third round exit at the hands of fourth tier Crawley Town. After an impressive start that saw Leeds rise into the Premier League’s top half, the Whites are now sliding down the table. Is it possible they are getting sucked into the relegation scrap?

Currently in 12th place, there’s no reason for Bielsa or his players to be panicked. Leeds still have a good cushion on the three teams in the relegation zone, with 11 points between them and Fulham in 18th place. But while Fulham and West Brom are steadily improving their form, Leeds’ momentum is starting to slow.

Saturday’s home defeat to Brighton was arguably the most concerning performance and result of Leeds United’s season so far. While Bielsa’s side were hailed for their irrepressible energy and drive earlier in the campaign, they were lethargic against the Seagulls. The verve was gone from their play on both sides of the ball.

 

 

Against Brighton, Leeds charted their fewest number of sprints in a Premier League match since the 4-1 defeat to Leicester City in the first week of November. A key part of Leeds’ game is their ability to recover the ball high up the pitch, but there was no sign of this on Saturday. This denied them the chance to keep the pressure on Brighton.

Indeed, Leeds United had their fewest number of touches in the opposition penalty box in the first half of a Premier League game this season. They also registered their fewest number of interceptions. For a team whose approach revolves around disrupting opposition sides in their own half, where they are most comfortable, this is a real problem.

This raises fresh questions over the durability of Bielsa’s teams. It has become cliches that sides under the Argentine’s stewardship drop off in the second half of seasons, but like most cliches there is an element of truth in the notion. There have indeed been signs of a decline in Leeds United’s performances of late and with the schedule not likely to get any easier any time soon that must be worry for all concerned with the club.

 

 

Of course, some perspective is required. Leeds United are a promoted team. While some genuine quality was added over the summer, with the likes of Rodrigo Moreno, Diego Llorente, Raphina and Robin Koch arriving at Elland Road, Bielsa’s squad is still largely of Championship calibre. Even by Championship standards, Leeds didn’t have the strongest squad in the division last season.

Avoiding relegation back to the second tier would represent an achievement. This would give Leeds United the chance to build again and plan for a future as an established Premier League team. This is a club with big ambitions for the future, but they must take it one step at a time. Consolidation back in the top flight must happen before any European tilt or greater.

Nonetheless, the recent warnings must be heeded. Leeds United aren’t the same team they were a few months ago. They are easier to play against and recent results reflect this, although it’s not so long ago that the Whites stuck five goals past West Brom. Bielsa remains a managerial icon. He has revitalised a club and an entire city, but after the highs of earlier in the season Leeds must be careful not to suffer the lows of fight against relegation.